James Governor's Monkchips

On Jon Udell, freedom, talent management and the New Patronage economy

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I recently wrote a rather breathless piece about Jon Udell joining Microsoft. At the time I hoped his departure from Infoworld would mean he could provide a full text feed, rather than snippets. I must admit I didn’t always read his stuff partly because it meant going over to Infoworld (that one click new tab open is just a killer…) The only way to ensure my attention is by allowing me to read stuff in the context I choose…

So I was very happy to see that his new digs offers full text RSS so now I can read his stuff in my aggregator (although I may of course have to visit Jon for multimedia). I believe Jon understands feed/portal duality extremely well, so its great he is going to be able work on that, without having the commercial restrictions inherent in working for Infoworld.

Of course working for Microsoft will impose a different set of constraints, but for now we can perhaps see Jon’s arrival as more evidence heralding what some are calling the deportalization of the Interweb. I prefer to think of it as mass portalisation, but perhaps Stowe has it best when he says, pointing at Keith Teare,

“It’s the movement of power from the large companies at the center to the edglings: we, the people.”

But in this case it will be Microsoft funding this redistribution of influence to the edge (well, New Hampshire, anyway.)

We are on the verge of some pretty substantial changes around who gets paid what, why and how. Stephen outlined some of the new Patronage thinking in RedMonk Is Brought To You By.

“As much as we believe in giving back, however, we do have mortgages to pay and beers to drink, so we need paying customers that share our belief in this model and the importance of participation, openness and transparency. That appreciate that value can be measured by metrics other publications produced only for paying customers. That appreciate that there are fundamental shifts underway in how authority and reputation are accorded and maintained. That appreciate that sometimes value creation is indirect.

Fortunately, we’re finding such customers. From those that have been with us almost from day one (almost four years ago now, wow) like IBM and Sun, to our latest recruits such as IONA, MuleSource, MySQL, and SpiceWorks, we’re proud to work with each and every one of them. But while we convey, I think, our pleasure at that aspect of our relationship, I do not think we do a good enough job recognizing that it’s ultimately their support – their patronage if you prefer that description of the model – that allows us to publish the research that we do and otherwise give back to communities wherever we can. Research which we hope benefits a much wider community of than just our customers.”

Other sources: GeekyGirl points to the New Sponsorship Model for Blogs/Websites. I actually think it goes further than that; sponsoring people and teams not sites per se. We also have for example Philanthropy 2.0 in the shape of Kiva.

One of my clients told me two years ago he would be happy to pay us money just because he dislikes a certain large industry analyst firm so much. He paid us for the value we bring, but being an irritant was a side benefit he joked he would happily pay for. Vinnie talks to the New Florence and I subscribe to the idea, certainly in as much as it means we all need to look for our very own Borgias.

Big companies need to find ways to sponsor the grassroots; supporting open source, for example, is a great way to do it. Will there be conflicts of interest inherent in the new Patronage economy? Of course: there are conflicts of interest in any company. But authentic will win out in many cases. Check out, for example, Blake on Google. Or think of Jeremy and Novell and his departure to Google.

Unlike the original Renaissance however, where patronage resources were somewhat scarce (well not in Venice, obviously), there are a glut of companies chasing the talent, wanting to sponsor them, benefit from them, capture some of the patina. Back to Stowe and edginess. But the talent is likely to be folks with powerful voices in their own right – global microbrands even. Hugh himself is another good example of the New Patronage at work, in his relationship with tailors, winemakers and yacht sellers.
In this view of the world, open source, Creative Commons and Open Data, are even more important, because it may be that the only way the talent is willing to hand over its intellectual property is in the form of shared community assets. If code is open source I can work on it regardless of who I work for at any given time- (Jeremy again). Otherwise if i leave I have to leave my baby behind. The talent potentially has a lot more control. In the music world this might translate into a refusal to allow record companies to DRM-hobble works. And if companies want to buy the talent’s IP outright they may find that rates start to go up considerably.

Finally I want to raise another point about the New Patronage Economy. A wide range of skills are likely required, notably an ability communicate and amplify ideas and create communities around them.
Gifted amateurs often make breakthrough discoveries. Innovation is invariably cross domain. Those that are funded/sponsored are likely to be those that are comfortable in a variety of domains. Note, for example, engineer’s paradise Google acknowledges the need to hire more rounded individuals. I think the obsession with specialisation which sees its apogee in things like IBM’s Component Business Modelling is going to start waning. Malcolm Gladwell in this great piece talks to the fact that a tax specialist could have seen through Enron’s numbers in a second. Accounting professionals couldn’t. Successful analysis requires synthesis. I am not saying that all specialisation is bad- that would be absurd, but rather we’re going to start aknowledging the value of the generalist again.

Innovation requires some collaboration and some sloppiness. Large Organisations can benefit from heft but need to start using it in different ways. Microsoft is doing just that. Giving away laptops – that’s an act of Patronage. Hiring Udell is another.

Another implication? It makes absolutely no sense to become a patron and then interfere, or watch the clock. Patronage is fundamentally a model than concentrates on value, and outputs, rather than inputs.

I will conclude with a Wikipedia citation because it talks directly to my argument.

From the ancient world through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and into the early modern era, patronage of the arts was an important if not crucial phenomenon. It is known in greatest detail in reference to pre-modern Europe, though patronage can also be traced in feudal Japan and the traditional kingdoms of Southeast Asia and elsewhere—art patronage tended to arise wherever a royal or imperial system and an aristocracy dominated a society and controlled a significant share of its material resources. Rulers, nobles, and very wealthy people used patronage of the arts to endorse their political ambitions, social positions, and prestige. That is, patrons operated as sponsors. Various languages still use a term, “mecenate,” derived from the name of Emperor Augustus’ generous friend and adviser Gaius Maecenas. Some patrons, such as the Medici of Renaissance Florence, additionally used artistic patronage to “cleanse” wealth that was perceived as ill-gotten through usury.

While sponsorship of artists and the creation of art works is the best-known aspect of the patronage system, other disciplines and activities also benefitted from patronage, from early science (called natural philosophy), to scholarship and philosophy and all forms of intellectual endeavor, to practices like alchemy and astrology—all enjoyed varying levels of support from interested patrons.

Art patronage was especially important in the creation of religious art; organized religions have sponsored artistic development on every scale, from the largest architectural expressions in cathedrals, mosques, and temples to the smallest miniatures of painting and sculpture, and handicrafts of all types.

In European cultural history, virtually every major and minor figure in music, literature, and the fine arts from the Medieval period to the early modern era had some relationship with the patronage system, in which royal and noble patrons subsidized artistic creation. Artists as diverse and important as Chrétien de Troyes, Leonardo de Vinci and Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Jonson all sought and enjoyed the support of noble or ecclesiastical patrons.[1][2] Figures as late as Mozart and Beethoven also participated in the system to some degree; it was only with the rise of bourgeois and capitalist social forms in the nineteenth century that European culture moved away from its patronage system to the more publicly-supported system of museums, theaters, mass audiences and mass consumption that is familiar in the contemporary world.

This kind of system continues across many fields of the arts. Though the nature of the sponsors has changed—from churches to charitable foundations, and from aristocrats to plutocrats—the term patronage has a more neutral connotation than in politics. It may simply refer to direct support (often financial) of an artist, for example by grants.

disclaimer: IBM and Microsoft are RedMonk patrons.

Udell photo sourced from Robin Good. The other image I suspect is out of copyright… 😉


  1. Patronage may not be the best way to support independent voices. Consider Galileo’s discovery of the “Medician Stars”, four moons of Jupiter, in late 1609. That same year Cosimo de Medici, Galileo’s former pupil, was promoted as Grand Duke of Tuscany. Seeking patronage, Galileo named the newly discovered moons after the four Medici brothers and wrote the Sidereus Nuncius documenting his discovery. Cosimo recognized Galileo’s brilliance and quickly sent copies of this book to the various rulers of Christendom along with new Galileo-designed telescopes. These rulers were then invited to gaze upon these new Medician stars blazing far above the earthly plane.

    There is no doubt that Galileo was brilliant nor that the Sidereus Nuncius was a crucial work for the development of modern science. Part of Galileo’s success came from his marketing prowess in getting a copy of his book (analyst report?) into the hands of every major patron.

    Most analysts aren’t Galileo. But consider Rob Enderle. His recent professional flaying by the NYT and the Register speaks to some of my concerns with the patronage model. Fortunately neither of these two media outlets can place Enderle under house arrest or force him to recant his position on Microsoft. If the Vatican become a major tech supplier Enderle may have something to worry about.

  2. Great stuff George. thanks for taking the ideas seriously – that is how they were meant- and for the history lesson. I have considered the Enderle issue. One opportunity is to be sponsored by two houses-the Medicis and The Borgias…

    seriously though- I think I am describing something I see in action, rather than saying how i would like the world to be.

    Also – everyone knew who Galileo’s patrons. it when the patronage is a secret that real problems arise. transparency is a requirement for the new patronage.

    Also – Enderle’s flaying is something that could be applied to any analyst firm. I think its impossible to 100% remove conflicts of interest, even if your clients are pure sell or buy side. However these conflicts can be managed and ameliorated – through transparency, for one.

    But somewhere along the line someone is always paying the piper.

  3. Transparency is certainly a noble goal. However, one threat of full transparency is the imposition of a type of Glass-Steagall between buy-side and sell-side analysts in the larger analyst firms. I wonder how many analysts–particularly on the buy side–are totally aware of what’s going on with the vendor or consulting side of the house. Individual analysts may have no idea of whether or not particular vendors are clients. The glass wall of impartiality could already exist due to the vagaries of sales and marketing.

  4. […] James Governor’s Monkchips » Blog Archive » On Jon Udell, freedom, talent management and the New Patronage economy destined to be a classic. (tags: open-source-analysis patronage sponsorship business-models) […]

  5. […] Dave Shields recently argued IBMers should blog from their own platform, rather than through developerworks. I can now see a bloody good reason to do just that. IBM seems to not appreciate some facts about the new patronage economy. People don’t want to make contributions you can nuke. They want to work for you but have some small degree of autonomy. Deleting blogs is like editing blogs when nobody is looking. It just smells wrong. Can you imagine if Cote left and we deleted peopleoverprocess? Self-defeating I am sure you’d agree. What if Bobby Woolf joined Microsoft? How much IBM SOA documentation would be lost? […]

  6. […] that don’t have IP agreements in place that allow collaborative working according to the New Patronage Economy will be at a serious competitive disadvantage against others that do. You see, collaborators, and […]

  7. […] to Linux – does that mean Linus does what they tell him? They may buy some influence, its true. IBM gets the new patronage model pretty well, and increasingly works collaboratively with a range of constituencies, including […]

  8. […] Because we were pushing the dynamic language agenda forward at a critical time. Sun has now been a patron of dynamic languages on the JVM over the last few years, and RedMonk helped turn that dial. Sun […]

  9. There is so much in this excellent piece that it is hard to know where to start with the comments. I will pull one piece out, though.

    “Successful analysis requires synthesis. I am not saying that all specialisation is bad- that would be absurd, but rather we’re going to start aknowledging the value of the generalist again”

    I especially like this because it talks to more than just what is going on in this article. For me the innate ability to think conceptually – to have a strong conceptual model of technology is hugely important. I hire people like that because they can apply that model regardless of the problem space. There is after all one basic problem in distributed data. “When I have two values that purport to be the same, when do thjey actually have to be the same? Instantly? Eventually? Ever?”

    It doesn’t require a great deal of database specialiazation to ask that. It doesn’t require a great deal of industry (whatever the industry might be) knowledge to ask the question. Understanding and believeing the answer certainly does though. Regardless what data management model we are dealing with, that is still the fundamental issue.

    So wjile technologies come and go, technical fads have to be relearned, there are some major elemnts of truth that are specialization free. Make sure you master those.

    Oh, by the way these are called patterns – and are in my opinion what we bring to our patrons. These are patterns of thought. That is what our patrons pay us for.

  10. This is a beautiful essay on value creation, and speaks directly to a topic very dear to me. I had problems visiting a couple of links (I enjoy digging through all linked information) in particular the link to Hugh’s site and Blake on Google.

    Look forward to your continued thoughts on this dynamic area. If you’d like to see some of my ideas, please scan through my blog/tags cloud.

  11. […] had the pleasure of getting referred to an article from James Governor discussing the merits of a patronage economy this morning by Hugh Macleod (who is also referred to […]

  12. I am not sure I can agree with your analysis on the renaissance economy, the patron-artist relationship, nor the desire to have the Borgia as sponsors (patrons).

    First, the renaissance economy was not some halycon period where artists were in demand and dictated the terms to enrich themselves and unleash their creative genius. Instead, it was a period where the artist was at the mercy of the patron, be it an individual prince or a city, the power relationship and the monetary relationship was disproportionately in favour of the patron. They dictated the terms, they dictated the topic and if you displeased them, in any way, you were not paid. http://www2.ma.psu.edu/~nlf2/Ren.art/inart.html
    A closer reading of Florentine politics would suggest that it is hardly an ideal period. Yes, the art is nice and the politics is terrible. http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/HistoryWorld/European/Italy/?view=usa&ci=9780195176094 We may wish to live in a halcyon period where the “artists” the “talent” are in demand, yet that is not the case. Instead, as previously, it is dancing to the corporate tune be it Apple or Microsoft or Oracle. We would like to believe the myth, but it is just a myth.
    Finally, the Borgias were a terrible sponsor. They were ruthless, terrible, and rather corrupt. One notes that Machiavelli saw Casere Borgia as an interesting example of a Prince.
    To be sure the Renaissance created innovations and unleashed creativity that remains a standard. However, it is built upon rather bloody foundation. I certainly hope there is not an esoteric message in the writings on the new Florence which would suggest similiar creativity requires corrupt politics and bloody tyrants feasting on the body politic.

    Other than those points, I do agree that talent management is a key challenge for any organisation and will be an important comparative advantage.http://www.fasset.org.za/downloads/events/talent_man_sdf_long_article_website.pdf

  13. […] our open work, and highlighting a company that wants to engage more closely with developers. The New Patronage Economy, as it […]

  14. […] years ago I used the phrase New Patronage Economy to describe how open source and cloud were changing the relationship between people, the work they […]

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